The only thing more prevalent in Texas than family law attorneys are myths about family law cases, specifically divorces. Everybody knows someone who is divorced nowadays. Each of them have an opinion which he or she has shared with friends, family, waiters, postal workers, etc. On down the line a story goes and it gets twisted and mangled to the point where the original story becomes unrecognizable. What we are left with is a little bit of truth and a lot of untruths.
These untruths are harmful, make no mistake. What we have to consider is that these stories become fact in the minds of many people. It won’t matter if those untruths are heard by a happily married person, but if you are considering a divorce then those untruths can frame your mindset in a harmful way.
Most people who get divorced do so with the assistance of an attorney. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that the untruths, myths and stereotypes of divorce can be tossed out with other useless and bad information. An attorney can help to be the gatekeeper for necessary, relevant and helpful information to come in and all other information to be kept out.
After all- you probably don’t work on your own car, fill your own cavities or administer your own vaccines. As it stands you may not even mow your own lawn. My point is that attorneys offer a service that literally no other person can in the sense that only an attorney can represent you in a court of law. Yes, it costs money and yes, attorneys aren’t always the nicest people in the world (present company excluded, of course). But in the long run hiring an attorney to represent you in your divorce can be one of the smarter investments that you ever make.
Going about getting a divorce on your own can be done- with some difficulty in most cases
Still, if you are wanting to file for a divorce on your own without representation from an attorney there is nothing wrong with that and it certainly can be done. Head down to the courthouse in whatever county your reside in a pull up a seat. You’ll see people of all sorts getting divorced. Most will have attorneys, as I’ve already mentioned, but some won’t. The law applies the same to all people regardless of whether or not you are represented by a lawyer.
With that said, what you have to do is balance your need for a divorce with the potential benefits that an attorney can provide to you. The world is full of those aforementioned rumors and myths about divorce. If you are entering into the jungle that is the world of divorce without representation you are more susceptible to falling for one of these myths.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC we will spend some time going through some of these myths in an attempt to help those who are considering a do-it-yourself divorce.
The case you have to start off with is the case you have when you finish
I have had many people come into our office for a consultation who have told me that their situation is open and shut, straightforward and that their spouse and he/she are in agreement on all issues related to their divorce. These, I fear to write, are nearly always the famous last words of an optimist. Once I begin to ask very basic questions about the issues that these folks need to sort out, a blank expression will cross their face telling me that these are issues that they had not yet considered.
My point is not to make someone feel bad or look foolish, but to impression upon him or her that divorces are not like applying for a mortgage. You don’t just fill out paperwork, list your income and credit score and then sign for the money. A divorce case will change as time goes by, invariably. Yours may be an exception but it would be an exception that proves the rule. Your divorce will change, your goals will change, your circumstances will change. What was an uncontested divorce will quickly become a contested divorce. A contested divorce is one that I certainly would recommend that you hire an attorney to represent you on.
A do-it-yourself divorce will save you money
This one makes sense to the extent that by not hiring an attorney you will be able to save money in the short term. Obviously this is true. Not spending money costs you nothing. Spending money costs you money. This is not very high level thinking, unfortunately. The laws of divorce change. The circumstances of your life change. Your unfamiliarity the courts and judges and the law in general may end up costing you money in the long run.
So, while you can get a divorce without an attorney and you can save money in the process you may be missing important steps, giving up money to your spouse that you do not need to or some combination of the two that ultimately will cost you money. Hiring a family law attorney to represent you in your divorce is not a lifetime commitment to fees. It is a temporary relationship intended to benefit you in the long run.
Adultery means that your case is sunk from the beginning
This applies to any person who was either unfaithful who now fears that their home, property and rights to their children are all in jeopardy as a result of their extra-marital dalliances or any person whose spouse was unfaithful. From my experience it is usually the “victim” spouse who comes into our office talking about allegations and knowledge, etc. of an affair that their spouse had. Their expectation, I’ve come to learn, is that I am going to leap out of my seat and tell them that their spouse is in deep trouble.
While I would agree that adultery is morally wrong, the law doesn’t hold the sort of stiff penalties for adulterers that you may think. For instance, the main way that adultery can harm your case is that if found to be a leading cause of your divorce a judge has it within their power to award a “disproportionate” share of your community estate to your spouse. This means a greater than 50% share.
The circumstances surrounding your affair can impact how conservatorship, possession and access to your children are determined as well. If you made the affair known to your children and they have been harmed by it as a result then you may not be able to assert the same sort of case for being an active and involved parent as you ordinarily would have.
However, the vast majority of divorces do not get to the phase where a judge is making a decision. Most divorces settle during a process called mediation. You and your spouse would use a mediator to help you reach agreements on the important issues in your case. Now, your spouse can always use the affair as a bargaining chip against you but the reality is that unless your spouse used community property to buy trips, vehicles, gifts, etc. for their paramour or if your children were presented with the affair directly the whole issue may not rise to being all that important in your case. That may not sound right to you, or may not seem fair but it is reality in Texas
More on myths associated with do-it-yourself divorces to be posted tomorrow
As it sometimes happens with blog posts like these one day is not enough to pack in all the information that I wanted. With that said stay tuned tomorrow as we continue to discuss myths that are relevant for any person going through a divorce without an attorney.
In the meantime, if you have questions regarding any aspect of divorce or are concerned that your decision to represent yourself may not have been the best thought that you’ve ever had, please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with one of our licensed family law attorneys six days a week.